NIGERIA’S senators and federal government officials have been involved in a bitter dispute over the N5bn ($13m) bailout approved for airline operators and other businesses in the aviation sector to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their operations.
Like most other nations, Nigeria got hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the aviation sector in particular, suffered from the effects of a lockdown. With many operators facing the risk of going bankrupt, the Nigerian government decided to offer a N5bn bailout package to the sector, similar to what has been offered in many other countries.
Yesterday, the matter was debated on the floor of the National Assembly with the senate and ministers taking different positions on the value of the package. While the senate asked the federal government to raise the sum, saying it was too small, the executive said it could not go beyond that amount, as it had other challenges to contend with.
Speaking at the beginning of a three-day public hearing on six aviation executive bills in Abuja yesterday, Senator Smart Adeyemi, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, stressed the need for an upward review of the bailout funds for airline operators. He added that what the government was offering as a bailout was too little to make any meaningful impact.
This three-day public hearing on six executive bills is aimed at fine-tuning regulatory issues as well as discussing the effective management of agencies in the aviation industry, especially the twin bills for an act to repeal and enact the Civil Aviation Act, 2006 and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology Act 2010. Senator Adeyemi, maintained that the bailout for the airline operators was a far cry from what would be required to finance aircraft maintenance and retain workers.
He said: “ I think the federal government should give the industry all the attention it deserves. Yes you might say they are in business but their business is the soul of our economy.
“Let me take this unique opportunity to call on the federal government to explore the possibility of providing bailout funds for airline operators. The outbreak of the Covid-19 is a global and on-going pandemic and countries all over the world are providing bailout funds for airline operators.
“Certainly, the aviation industry was the most affected by this virus attack and therefore, it needs all the support possible to resuscitate the industry. In the absence of this, so many airlines will struggle to stay in business or worst still, be forced to withdraw their services.”
Aviation minister Senator Hadi Sirika, had informed the senate panel about the federal government’s plan to provide N4bn for airline operators and another N1bn for other business owners in the aviation sector, as part of its intervention to cushion the effects of Covid-19 pandemic. He said government’s decision was based on the recognition of the pivotal role of the aviation sector to the Nigerian economy.
According to Senator Sirika, although the decision to offer more cash is laudable, the government cannot afford to raise the said bailout above the present position because of the present challenges it is confronted with. He added that the federal government would require the backing of the senate for necessary appropriation in that regard in the 2021 budget.